After a much vaunted build up and excitement across the board at reaching the final in the Ukraine, much of the enthusiasm dampened when fans encountered the logistics of how to actually get to there.
Buses, cars and vastly overpriced chartered flights were more or less your only hope. I have already extensively covered my thoughts on Thomas Cook, travel agents and ticket touts extraordinaire. But in the days leading up to the final, other companies and their arrangements started to unravel as well. Both World Choice Sports and Myriad Travel cancelled flights at short notice, leaving fans devastated and with no option other than a refund.
Whilst the club offered ticket refunds, that’s not really the point. I’m not accusing either company of being a fly by night operation as I don’t know enough about either of them, but what I can say with certainty is that the issues that cropped up are at best incompetent and at worst grossly negligent. In World Choice Sports’ case, the landing slots in Kiev were the issue and in Myriad Travel’s case, one of the aircraft provider didn’t have the appropriate license to fly.
I find it incredible that these issues have surfaced just two or three days before the flights were due to take off. It is breath-taking ineptitude of the highest order that these issues were allowed to surface.
And of course, neither partner is willing to take responsibility and do anything but apologise. They have just merely pointed the finger of blame elsewhere and whilst that might be the case, as the company taking the money they have a duty to ensure that all is in place. Instead of taking the money and then establishing whether a charter partner has the correct license to fly an aircraft, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that the appropriate arrangements are in place.
Most flights have gone without a hitch, save the near £1000 price tag. But one flight not making it is a flight too many. That’s still a hundred plus Kopites who have missed out on their dream due to incompetence.
I’m not blaming the club for this because this is completely out of their hands. They worked with Kiev airport to try and resolve the slot issue though this was largely unsuccessful. Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson took time out from gifting Everton a free stadium to try and intervene too, so fair play to him too. He should have threatened to move some of the city’s countless potholes to the Ukraine.
But if this week’s respective fiascos have proven anything, it’s that it’s time for Liverpool to protect their fans by taking ownership of travel. The days of “official travel partners” needs to end and the club need to centralise all arrangements. I understand why the club are happy to let Thomas Cook do it, because it’s less hassle. But when fans have encountered the issues they have in this last month, it’s really time for change.
And it could be done so easily as well. There are several highly reputable independent, local travel companies. The club merely needs to buy one out and get them to organise the full kit and caboodle. If that’s not possible, just set up their own. It would be profitable if done correctly but even if it wasn’t, is that the point? The club has to look after the fans and in big events like a Champions League final – that gets forgotten about far too often.
A centralised club travel agency would have many benefits for fans. It would ensure that for big occasions, all appropriate arrangements are made. You know, like making sure the pilot has a license to fly a jet or whatever nonsense companies have hidden behind. It would also control large hotel block bookings which could stop the scandalous racketeering that has taken place in Kiev this weekend. The club would hold all the cards and be able to manage costs. There may be little they can do about ticket allocations but there’s plenty that can be done about travel and hotels.
It wouldn’t just be helpful for us for big occasions either – it could help fans for every away game to help organise reasonable travel costs and even overnight stays if they wanted. And with the club organising it there’s accountability – something that has been lacking in recent days.
Their reputation will be damaged but there’ll be no consequence to Myriad or World Choice. They’ll just process the refunds and that’s that and the next time there’s flights to be had, they’ll be hawking for business.
And again the fans will be forgotten and it’s us who carries the cost of runs in Europe. Liverpool could make a big statement by sorting out their own travel – but I won’t hold my breath.